What to expect at your Port of Entry into the USA with a Immigrant or Fiance(e) visa issued in London
If you have come far enough in the visa process to be reading this page you should have discovered one thing by now - nothing is quite the same from one place to another, and so it is with US ports of entry.
In brief you arrive at the POE clutching your mystery brown envelope and go to the non citizens line. There you are seen and sent to secondary inspection. But in practice when you arrive you will most likely see a Customs and Border Protection Officer directing people to various lines, (get used to it they are not queues you are in the USA now they are lines) show them your MBE and you may well be sent to the US Citizens line. SFO I believe it is has a separate line for arriving new immigrants. Once at the desk the officer will take the envelope and passport, check your passport and in about 90% of the time give you both back and direct you to another office which is called secondary inspection. The other 10% of the time you are at an airport where everything as far as you are concerned is dealt with by the first officer you see.
Secondary inspection is nothing to be concerned about, it is just where people needing more than the usual arrival formalities are dealt with. Here your envelope will be checked to make sure you haven't tampered with it, opened it, allowed you dog to try and eat it and that it is still properly sealed. I was surprised when I saw how carefully all the seams of the envelope were checked. The enclosed documents will be briefly checked, and you will be photographed and fingerprinted. Once this all starts it takes about 10 - 15 minutes.
Two things to do at this stage if you need to. On the forms you submitted for your visa application you gave your intended contact address in the USA, if that has changed tell the officer and ask for the form to be amended. This is important as it is where your Green Card and Social Security Card (IF you arrive with an Immigrant Visa and IF you ticked the box to have it issued on arrival) will be sent to. The other is if you were issued with a CR-1 visa and your second wedding anniversary was after the visa was issued but before your arrival in the US tell the officer. They can amend you status to IR-1 and you will receive a 10 year Green Card and not a 2 year one. Why is this important it saves you the not inconsiderable cost of removing conditions 2 years down the line.
K visa holders will want to make sure they get their I-94 card back, and that the entry was stamped for 90 days.
The one thing which concerns a lot of people at this stage other than the process itself is connecting flights. How long does the process take? As mentioned above, once it starts, 10 - 15 minutes but the variables which cannot be controlled are the time taken to reach the immigration desk on first arrival, and how many people are in front of you at secondary inspection. This is a 'how long is a piece of string' advice but allow at least an extra 2 hours on top of the normal time for connections and the really cautious have added 4 hours. Better to have time to kill than miss a flight and having to rely on available seats on later ones. Another alternative, which I did, was while there were no non stop flights to my final destination from the UK there was one from Frankfurt so I made my transfer there and didn't have the added unneeded worry about immigration delays.
The arrival process is straight forward, quite simple and nothing to be concerned about. Just allow time for it to take place and at the end most of the officers will say "Welcome to America".
See also http://britishexpats.com/wiki/Immigrant_Visa_Arrival
--Lansbury 11:34, 14 April 2010 (PDT)